Review: Writing New Adult Fiction by Deborah Halverson

Initial reaction: When I actually have the chance to write a full review of this writing guide, It’ll be a combination of a review and a soapbox because there’s a lot of talking points I could use with what both Sylvia Day says in the foreword, and what Halverson discusses in the text. On the whole, this was a great writing guide and it FINALLY gives a concrete and easy to follow layout of what NA as a category (not a genre) is all about and give some fine points on writing technique and character shaping that any writer could use.

The problem I have? If more NA writers actually embraced the kind of depth of portrayal that Halverson outlines in this book, I would have no problems with New Adult overall. I really wouldn’t. But that’s not the case, and it’s ironic that many of the bestselling authors who write in this category and are mentioned and/or cited in this work (Jamie McGuire, Molly McAdams, etc.) really don’t embrace that kind of depth, technique or detail in the narratives I’ve seen from them.

And having been someone who’s read close to 200+ books in NA, I could say there’s still much more room for growth in New Adult as a whole. Hope there are more writers who will take the advice for development and growth in narration and characterization here into measure to expand it further and better.

Full review:

I had no idea this book even existed until I went looking for it. Part of how I found it as a guide for writing NA fiction was for research on a project I’m working on at present in my WIPs, the other was a part of a series of longer standing questions I’ve had pinging in my mind for the longest time.

New Adult is a category that I have a complicated relationship with, even with the number of titles I’ve read, searching for a variety to see if any really resonated with me. Some of the works I’ve picked up have and are a large reason why I continue to read NA to date, but very many of them haven’t and I’ve talked about that at length in some of the individual narratives I’ve reacted to. I wondered if there were any formal narratives that could concretely discuss what NA literature is.

This was a writing guide specifically dedicated to giving advice on writing NA, and that’s huge because it’s really one of the few guides I’ve seen in a formal publishing (let alone Writer’s Digest) talking about it at length and in a central capacity (not as an off-shoot conversation on writing genre fiction).

Sylvia Day writes the foreword to this piece, as the author of the “Crossfire” series (starts with “Bared to You”) and cited as one of the pioneers of the genre. My first thought was “Huh? I thought the Crossfire series was adult erotica, not NA. I’m so freaking confused right now.” Day revealed she didn’t know her narratives fell under the category, but then I realized by the definition this book gives of her characters being “emerging adults,” Day’s narratives in the Crossfire series fall under the category of “New Adult”.

So New Adults are “emerging adults” – those that are coming out of their teen years and have matured past a certain point, but are still in their measure of growing into the world to the adults they’ll eventually become. The genre is showing the journeys, flaws and triumphs, of those characters as they grow in that span of time (usually from ages 18-25). It’s a showcasing of big firsts, transitions into the working world, relationships, coming to terms with sexuality, acting more independently, finding identity, etc. That’s the gist of the formal definition of NA that Halverson carries in the introduction and throughout this narrative.

Tammara Webber, author of “Easy”, is cited in the text as saying “I’m not writing FOR a certain age group, but ABOUT a certain age group.” And the collective sentiment seems to be that NA isn’t writing about the teen experience or the fully matured adult experience, but this “emerging adult” that’s somewhere in the measure between, with a lot of room for possibilities of showing growth and maturation over that age range. Some are proceeding to college, some are going into the working world, military, some may have various transitions in their life like getting married and having children or some other major life transitions in the measure. It’s NA’s aim, as per the text, to showcase those transitions and what they entail for the people who live them.

(With those broad possibilities in definition, it still baffles my mind as to why many of the NA narratives I’ve picked up seem to be so…marginalized. And I did have questions about what this may mean in scopes beyond contemporary, but it wasn’t really addressed that much in this narrative, unfortunately.)

There were things I didn’t like about this book in the portrayal of the origins of the New Adult genre. I did think that Halverson was a bit oddly defensive of New Adult in the beginning (particularly in the discussions of the media portrayals of NA as “sexed up YA fiction”). I know this was probably to dispel beliefs over what NA wasn’t, though, and I liked that she progressively explained that New Adult is intended to be more encompassing and diverse than that segmentation. (Though I think it would’ve been wise to discuss just how that “sexed up” notation came to be, as well as some really strong cliches of the genre and how that’s shaped perception.)

I also think that it was weird how – with the mention of series like Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley University (which I know was way before 2009, I know because I read that offshoot series of the Sweet Valley Twins books when I was a TEEN and ate them up like hotcakes) – that New Adult appeals and origins had roots WELL before 2009 – that the stories of these “emerging adults” – college bound or not – had peaks and lows that have reverberated through different times and markets.

That past was mentioned but not really explored, but yet there was the story of the failed launch of 2009 of the term “New Adult” and then self-publish boom of narratives from the likes of Jamie McGuire, Jessica Park, Molly McAdams and then suddenly it’s a thing to behold and these people are pioneers of the genre.

That’s almost as bad (read: massively incorrect) as saying E.L. James pioneered the erotica genre. *rolls eyes* Just because you have people in contemporary measures who are popular and publishing for something that’s been around for ages and just so happens to fall under the term of this newly created category name doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a “pioneer”. I don’t think New Adult is truly a “new” thing – it’s just a new term for something that’s already well-established but has had different forms in the past. I think it’s had appeals and manifestations and if someone could take the time to aptly explore it, we’d realize that the need for stories for people in this “transitional phase” of their lives were always relevant and in existence, having waves of undulating popularity. So, it’s more that it has a different name and distinction now with different people leading the scope. The portrayal of this history was something I had a problem with in this narrative and that in part was what kept this from being a five star read for me, because I know it has more history than this. Way more.

But I loved the writing advice of this book – it was easy to understand, clear cut, and very useful, really for a writer of any walk or genre. Honestly – if more NA writers actually did follow some of the themes, explorations, and techniques this book decided to delve into for the category, I’d see more value especially with the range of possibilities for story exploration, details, and character depth. Halverson – to her credit – gives wonderful attention to character details, environments, the struggles of emerging adults, psychologically and emotionally relevant issues and transitions for this age group, writing technique among other things. I also liked that this narrative didn’t necessarily just focus on NA contemporary romance and contemporary mentions, but also historical, paranormal, and different genre divisions within the category (though the cited examples did reveal that there could be a need for more writers in the offshoot genres beyond contemporary romance and contemps).

In sum, I liked the writing advice, the discussions of the genres, the different people who reflected on the themes and diverse details and what the aims of New Adult as a category would include, but it is somewhat steeped into the portrayal of the field’s current frontrunners for popularity, without the discussions and more examples taken from those narratives directly to see what make them pop and appeal.

Some parts on the category are good, especially with reflections on the aim and what could be built upon in the category (and I appreciated Jennifer Armentrout’s/J. Lynn’s and Tammara Webber’s citations among some NA editors and other spokespeople), but I do think there’s a mismatch not only in the origins and appeal of the portrayals of “emerging adults” in literature, but also in how these aims translate to page. To Halverson’s credit, she does touch on some of the cliches of NA, but I don’t know if there’s very much discussion on just how prevalent these cliches are, and that might’ve been something worth discussing in terms of reaction and debate in the measure of the category’s exploration. That could help emerging writers know what to look for and what to expand upon further in addition to the advice that was given for branching out and creating whole, fuller characters.

I will likely return to this writing guide for insights and tips, and it’s one I’ll keep in my library.

Overall score: 3.5/5 stars

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